The views on Single Malts expressed here are based on my opinions only; note that these will never be influenced by financial imperatives, advertising hype, or the sense that the corporate heads of the whisky industry should be defended at all costs whatever their actions.
Unlike other commentators or whisky web site, I do not get or ask for free bottles in exchange for awarding phony medals, nor do I have any ties with anyone in the industry. I pull no punches because I am passionate about Single Malt Scotch and the people who make it --for that, I make no excuses.
A very brief summary of recent events seen through a non-commercial lens
Single Malt Scotch, with the exception of Glenfiddich, a precursor, became widely distributed only in the late 1980's. Those were the days of the Classic Malt collection, when Michael Jackson's complete guide to Single Malt Scotch first came out, the days when you could get an 18 year old Macallan with inscribed on the bottle, not only the 'distilled by' date, but the year in which it was bottled too.
Like most forms of progress, the emergence of Single Malt Scotch on a large scale was due to a disaster. In the late 1980's blended scotch (that ersatz mostly made of grain whisky and only some malt) had suffered a solid decade of massive sales decline in the world markets. Vodka was taking over, and the luminaries in the corporate offices which owned whisky distilleries were flailing wildly, willing to dredge up any old crazy idea to try and increase their sales and get rid of their massive stocks of blended scotch. Anything obviously included promoting the essence of whisky, that which is at the core of every famous blend there is: Malt Whisky! We are talking here of the heart of Johnny walker, of Chivas, of Justerini and Brooks, even of the Famous Grouse. Though this would eventually (read: now) lead to some problems, at the time the promotion of single malt scotch was a stroke of genius: sales went through the roof, though keep in mind they represented only a fraction of the larger and still declining blended whisky sales.
So in the late 1980's SMS injected life into the scotch whisky industry, but at the expense of their main bussiness some thought. To use an image, Blended Scotch was seen as a large rotting carcass, and the wide array of Single Malt Scotch brands were the larvae eating away at it frantically.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves here. This unfinished tale begins even earlier, in the 19th Century , when under the pressure of rancid businessmen (and increased demands) Whisky officially became blended with grain alcohol rather then the Single Malt it once was. It is a tale of profits versus quality, tradition, terroir and the people that make the whisky. It was first the tale of Blended whisky against Malt whisky, and has become the tale of the owners of Blends against Single Malt Whisky as an authentic drink. Which makes Scotch Whisky is a fascinating beverage: its history reflects the economical and (to a certain extent) the political struggles of its times.
Rest assured dear reader, that this is not meant to be a plodding history of Single Malt Scotch from start to finish. Rather, we will be exploring many aspects of the trade, all of which, we hope, will contribute in an unauthorized and therefore more authentic history of Single Malt Scotch.
We plan to examine without compassion but with a fair amount of sadness, the Rise and (coming) Fall of the House of Macallan, and we claim to be able to do it in a way impossible to replicate by the glossy magazine who cash the checks (and pocket the cash) of the Corporate Masters at the Macallan. You see, we plan to report the Decline of the Macallan honestly.
What else? A discussion, and then, the establishment of 3, 4 categories of Malt, like for a Chateau of Bordeaux (appelations should also be classified). Why can we do this and Malt Magazine, or Whisky Magazine cannot? Because they are too beholden to the powers that be in the Whisky world. They are afraid to upset their advertisers, their golfing buddies who send them samples by the case. We are not. Our pride is our lack of connections with the Marketers and Public Relations characters, it is also the guarantee of our independence.
We also plan to discuss the history of Single Malt Scotch through the travails of the people that make it, this might be called: SMS, a people's history.
Every entry will be preceded by the dram of the day and the drama of the day both followed by a short description. On this debut, they will conclude this lengthy introduction; may you enjoy the ride as much as we will. Sante!
Dram of the Day: Laphroaig 10 year old Cask Strength (OB): No extra water makes it immediately more authentic than Islay offerings twice its age and thrice its price. It also makes the mouth-feel visquous, almost slick. The usual sea elements apply, but what makes this one a standout is its uncommon synergy of texture and taste.
Drama(s) of the Day: Realizing that the Macallan is introducing its diluted, Bourbon wood bottling all over the world --not just as a duty free curiosity as it was first claimed. Realizing that this contradicts the Macallan's claim to fame: being the only distillery that used Sherry Wood Exclusively. And last not least, realizing, as the introduction of a 30 year old sadly demonstrates, that they had been planning this little marketing turnaround for ages...
None other than Malt Pioneer, Michael Jackson, muses on this topic in a very informative piece written by Johanna in her singleminded web-site (its in the archive, and its a great little piece that everyone interested in the Macallan should read). It includes a great quote from MJ who hints, in his typically understated fashion, that he is considering stocking up on the soon to be extinct "Macallan bottled exclusively from Sherry casks."
The Macallan name and distillery which is in fact part of the Scottish patrimony, is in the hands of incompetent and greedy fools who, for example, rushed to create and market Replicas based on forgeries of old bottles they unthinkingly purchased without testing their authenticity! These are the same guys who phased out Golden Promise (the rich tasting but low-yelding organic barley) as well.
Their "crimes" will be described here clearly --no sugar coating-- for I have nothing to lose, no chats with Bob the distiller, or Rob the Manager, around a few free drams, no visits to the Distillery to look forward to. No, what I and other drinkers have to look forward to is the realization that the shelves of our liquor store, or supermarket, will soon be devoid of Macallan "exclusively bottled from Sherry casks." Then, it will be too late, and there will be nothing but bitterness towards the corporate types that have effectively made the Macallan exclusively aged in Sherry casks a thing of the past...